MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Right now, lawmakers in Congress are negotiating the details of the tax bill before sending it to the president. In its current form, the proposed legislation – H.R. 1 – the Tax Cut and Jobs Act — is 468 pages long.
To Steve from St. Louis Park, that’s a lot of words. So, he wrote to WCCO wanting to know: Who actually writes the bills? Good Question.
“Attorneys — attorneys who are very knowledgeable about the tax code,” says Kathryn Pearson, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
She says smaller pieces of legislation can originate directly from a member, who might receive input from constituents, lobbyists or staff on a particular issue. According to U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen (R – MN 3rd District), the Member then directs the staff to take that policy idea to the Office of Legislative Counsel. That’s a nonpartisan office made up of attorneys who turn the concept into the proper legislative language.
Both the U.S. House and Senate have Offices of Legislative Counsels. Those Officers are have very specific language requirements on how a bill must be written.
From there, the bill language is reviewed by the Congressperson’s office before being dropped in a hopper and given a legislative number.
“The tax code is complicated,” says Pearson. “They can’t just write a bill that says, oh, change the tax code. It has to specifically refer to the sections with the tax code it affects.”
The process is slightly different for larger, policy bills – like tax reform or health care. In those cases, the staff from the particular Congressional committees working on the bills will also get involved in the writing process. Rep. Paulsen, who is on the Ways and Means Committee working on the tax bill, says there is a specific tax-writing staff within the Committee dedicated to writing the detailed and complicated bill.
“In a bill like this – 400 or 500 pages, it really is a group effort,” says Pearson. “They’ll want to make sure that the changes they think they’re making are in fact the changes they’re making and they’ll have these tax attorneys look closely at the bill.”